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The Painter's Two Daughters

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Date:

    ca. 1758 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Gainsborough, born 1727 - died 1788 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    oil on canvas (two canvases joined)

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by John Forster

  • Museum number:

    F.9

  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, room 52d, case WS

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Object Type
A portrait of this kind is reminiscent of the work of one of Gainsborough's most admired artists of the past, Van Dyck, whose portraits of children also had a slightly melancholy sweetness.

Subjects Depicted
The artist painted his daughters several times. Both daughters attended Blacklands School in Chelsea, London, where they learned to draw; Margaret also became an accomplished amateur musician. Mary married the oboe player Johann Christian Fischer in 1780, but they soon separated, and she developed eccentricities which eventually resulted in insanity. After their father's death in 1788, the two sisters lived together.

People
Thomas Gainsborough was born in Sudbury, Suffolk, in 1727. He moved to London in 1740, studying at the St Martin's Lane Academy and associating with Hubert Gravelot and Francis Hayman. He returned to Suffolk in 1748; then moved to Bath in 1759 and established a successful portrait practice, although he regularly visited London. He exhibited at the Society of Artists and was invited to be a founder member of the Royal Academy in 1768. He also painted pictures in the sentimental manner of Murillo, and landscapes of a 'picturesque' kind.

Physical description

Since this painting was probably executed in 1758, Gainsborough's daughters would have been about ten and six years old. It appears that the girl on the spectator's left is the elder and she is therefore taken to be Mary (born ca. 1748) and the girl on the spectator's right is Margaret (born ca. 1752). As in all the other double portraits the girls are shown in close sisterly contact with each other; here they are linked by Mary's arm stretching up to rest on Margaret's hair (the girls' hair would have been cut in this short style to fit neatly under mob caps). Margaret turns to face us with an almost haughty expression.

Date

ca. 1758 (painted)

Artist/maker

Gainsborough, born 1727 - died 1788 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

oil on canvas (two canvases joined)

Dimensions

Height: 40.6 cm canvas, Width: 61.6 cm, Width: 58.4 cm canvas, Height: 57 cm frame, Width: 78.5 cm frame, Depth: 5 cm frame

Object history note

Bequeathed by John Forster, 1876
Painted by Thomas Gainsborough (born in Sudbury, Suffolk, 1727, died in London, 1788)

Descriptive line

Portrait of Mary and Margaret Gainsborough, the artist's two daughters

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Mirjam Neomeister, ed. The Changing Face of Childhood: British Children's Portraits and their Influence in Europe Frankfurt: Städel Museum, 2007.ISBN: 978-8321-7791-1.
Exhibition catalogue.
100 Great Paintings in The Victoria & Albert Museum. London: V&A, 1985, p.70
The following is the full text of the entry:

"Thomas Gainsborough RA 1727-1788
British School
THE PAINTER'S TWO DAUGHTERS
Oil on canvas, two canvases joined, 40.7 X 61.6 cm
F.9. Forster Bequest.

Gainsborough always held that likeness 'was the principal beauty and intention of a Portrait', but in his depictions of his daughters Mary (born c.1748) and Margaret (born c.1752), the likeness is endued with a special quality of intimacy and understanding. He loved to paint 'Molly' and 'The Captain', as he affectionately called them, and there survive today five double as well as several single portraits of the girls at various ages. Doubtless their attraction for him as sitters was the greater because they were not patrons with exigent demands, but his own children upon whom he could practice his skills as a portraitist with freedom to experiment in a spontaneous and informal manner.

It is not known exactly when Gainsborough executed this double portrait, but it was probably in 1758, when his daughters would have been about ten and six years old. It appears that the girl on the spectator's left is the elder, and she is therefore taken to be Mary, who later married the celebrated oboe player, Johann Fischer. As in all the other double portraits, the girls are shown in close sisterly contact with each other; here they are linked by Mary's arm stretching up to rest on Margaret's hair. (The girls' hair would have been cut in this short style to fit neatly under mob caps). Margaret, under the restraining hand, turns to face us with an almost haughty gaze, an expression very similar to one she wears in the slightly later portrait now in the National Gallery, The Painter's Daughters holding a Cat.

The two heads are modelled with great delicacy, the artist tracing the contours with a meticulous hatching technique, his brush charged with luminous colour. This contrasts with his free treatment of the nebulous leafy background.

The history of the painting is somewhat obscure, but according to tradition, it passed from Margaret Gainsborough to John Jackson, RA, and was then divided vertically into two halves, one going to W C Macready, the actor, and the other to John Forster, the friend and biographer of Dickens. Forster, as is recorded, ultimately acquired Macready's portion which he reunited with his own, the joined painting coming to the Museum in 1876. Closer examination does however suggest that the work may actually have begun life as two individual portraits: the backgrounds of the two halves do not entirely tally, and Mary's left arm seems out of alignment with the rest of her torso, the upper arm being over-painted to connect with the raised forearm on the right hand side of the painting. If this is so, it would help to explain the portrait's division between two previous owners.

Margeret Timmers"

Exhibition History

The Changing Face of Childhood: British Children's Portraits and their Influence in Europe (Dulwich Picture Gallery 01/08/2007-04/11/2007)
The Changing Face of Childhood: British Children's Portraits and their Influence in Europe (Städel Museum (Stadelsches Kunstinstitut und Stadtische Galerie), Frankfurt am Main 20/04/2007-15/07/2007)

Labels and date

British Galleries:
Portraits of children form a distinctive category of portraiture in both painting and sculpture. Gainsborough's image of his two daughters, aged about nine and seven, has a touching intimacy and informality. Yet despite its apparent naturalness, this painting uses an established conventional pose showing the girls half-turned towards the artist. [27/03/2003]

Materials

Canvas; Oil paint

Techniques

Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Children; Gainsborough, Mary; Gainsborough, Margaret

Categories

British Galleries; Portraits; Children & Childhood; Paintings

Collection code

PDP

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Qr_O17303
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